Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Dawkins Subdivision


The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Dawkins Subdivision was named for the Dawkins Lumber Company, 5 who had incorporated the Big Sandy & Kentucky River Railroad (BS&KR) in 1912 to build 31 miles of track in Breathitt County to access virgin timberlands. 3 6 7 The first segment of the BS&KR to be completed extended between West Van Lear to Riceville, where the railroad was headquartered from 1913 to 1920. The company boasted four locomotives, one passenger car, a combine, three flatcars, and three cabooses. 7The BS&KR was extended to Carver in 1919-21, which included the construction of the 662-foot Gun Creek Tunnel at Ivyton. 6

In anticipation of extending the BS&KR into the coalfields of Breathitt County, the company relocated their offices to Royalton and proceeded to build a wye, black oil tank, steel sanding tower, and fuel and water hose mounts in the town. 3 6 7 It also added a derrick and dump car to the roster.

The stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression forced the BS&KR to declare bankruptcy. The 24.2-mile line was then acquired by the C&O and leased to the BS&KR on September 20, 1930, which led to the C&O acquiring the BS&KR outright on December 19, 1933. 7 The branch became known as the C&O Dawkins Subdivision. 6


The C&O began planning for a 15½ mile extension from Carter to Vail in Breathitt County on September 15, 1943. 7 Construction, which began on September 21, 1948, included the boring of a 1,555-foot 3 6/1,840-foot 7 tunnel. The project was completed on September 15, 1951.

Prior to the completion of the extension, the Dawkins Subdivision serviced only two active coal mines that produced less than 400 cars per month. 8 By 1953, there were seven active mines on the branch that produced more than 2,000 cars a month; over 75% of the tonnage was coming from two mines in Breathitt County. 9

In 1975, the Island Creek Coal Company No. 3 Elkhorn tipple at Vail, operated by their subsidiary Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Company, was closed. 8 The Dawkins Subdivision was mothballed from Evanston to the end of the line at Vail, a distance of three miles. The branch was then closed to revenue traffic in 2000 over repairs that were needed. 1

The R.J. Corman Equipment Company (RJ) acquired the Dawkins Subdivision from CSX (C&O’s ultimate successor) in January 2002, which would include 36.13 miles of track from West Van Lear to Evanston. 1 3 RJ began interchanging with CSX at Paintsville on February 4. 1

One of the remaining customers of the Dawkins Subdivision was AEI Resources (formerly Addington), who had constructed the Skyline Preparation Plant near Evanston in mid-2001. Coal from the surface mine was transported to the plant by truck, which was then transferred to RJ for movement to Paintsville, but because of the number of repairs needed, RJ opted to cease operations on the line in 2003. 4 On November 6, 2004, RJ filed to abandon for the Dawkins Subdivision. 2 3

Dawkins Line Rail Trail

The Dawkins Subdivision was railbanked by the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council in preparations to convert it into a rail-trail at the projected cost of $2.1 million. 4 In May 2011, 6 the branch was purchased by the state for $500,000 with funds that had been appropriated by the General Assembly in 2006. 5 6An additional $2 million was secured from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and $500,000 from coal severance funds.

Only ten landowners along the route voiced opposition to the rail trail, who had claimed that crime would decrease property values and that the state had “stolen” their property. 4

The first 18½ miles 4 6 of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail opened on June 15, 2013. 9

Further Reading


  1. Dawkins Line Rail Trail at TrailLink

[/su_spoiler][su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]

  1. Pleasant, Bryan and Ron Stafford. “Dawkins Sub acquired by Corman.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine Mar 2002: 3. Print.
  2. “Proposed railroad abandonments.” 2004. 10 Nov. 2009 Listing.
  3. Big Lovely Mountain Trail Feasibility Report. N. pag. Summit Engineering, Inc., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. Report.
  4. Stambaugh, Carrie. “Rail-trail plans on track, state officials say.” Independent [Ashland] 4 Sept. 2011: n. pag. Independent Online. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. Article.
  5. “Gov. Beshear, First Lady announce latest adventure tourism attraction in Eastern Kentucky.” Commonwealth of Kentucky, 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. Article.
  6. Stambaugh, Carrie. “Abandoned rail could again help fuel parts of eastern Kentucky.” Independent [Ashland] 30 Aug. 2011: n. pag. Independent Online. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. Article.
  7. Huddleston, Eugene L. “Via Mixed Train Through Eastern Kentucky.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine Apr. 1991: 2-9. Print.
  8. Young, Everett N. “Days on the Dawkins.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine Apr. 1991: 10-14. Print.
  9. Lynch, Jake. “Rural Kentucky Primed for the Opening of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail.” Rails to Trails Conservancy, 30 May 2013. Web. 12 June 2013. Article.


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Dawkins Subdivision Blog

Where can I obtain a location list of the R/R bridges and tressels for the 36 miles of this line? Approximately 100 years ago, my grandfather joined the parent company, Dawkins Lumber Company, as a master R/R bridge builder. He retained this position until the mill went out of business in 1929/1930 time frame. Since many of the structures are in a state of disrepair due to age, I would like to photograph those still standing as a rememberance to my grandfather. Any help that you can provide will be appreciated.

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